Attorney General Office Recommends Changes to Article 66(d)

By Pe Thet Htet Khin 5 May 2017

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s Attorney General Office has recommended that defendants charged under the controversial Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law be granted bail.

The transport and communications ministry submitted a bill amending the telecommunications law to the Union Attorney General Office, permanent secretary of the office Daw Nu Nu Yin told a government press conference on Thursday.

Daw Nu Nu Yin said the office is reviewing the bill and giving recommendations for changes, including granting bail. It will return the bill to the ministry, which will forward it to the government and Parliament, she added.

Currently, judges decided whether to grant bail on hearing the cases, as the law does not specify whether bail should be granted or not.

Article 66(d) states that anyone found guilty of extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network shall be punished with a maximum three years in prison, a fine, or both.

An increasing number of defamation charges have been brought against politicians, reporters, and social media users under Article 66(d). Activists have called for the controversial defamation law to be abolished or amended, saying that it denies citizens their freedom of speech and expression.

In many cases, the accused have been denied bail.

U Nay Pu Ba Swe, secretary of the Lower House Transport, Communications and Construction Committee, said they would coordinate with the “concerned authorities” to amend the law when the parliament resumes on May 18.

Third parties have filed complaints against some defendants under Article 66(d). Rangoon divisional lawmaker U Nay Phone Latt said the law should be amended so that only the defamed persons can file complaints.

According to the law, the Ministry of Transport and Communications must approve a complaint before the defendant is sued. However, U Nay Phone Latt said the ministry does not thoroughly review the complaints.

“The ministry takes no responsibility at present,” he said. “It should assign a group of ministry officers to review the complaints and decide whether the person should be sued or not.”

The telecommunications law was enacted under the military-backed government of former President U Thein Sein, ostensibly to regulate private telecom operators. It was mainly used to deter criticism of the administration.

According to an NGO researching the law, there have been 54 cases charged under Article 66 (d) under the new government up to April. Eight have been jailed, and six were denied bail and are facing trial in custody.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko